Here’s the second installment of Samantha Pederson’s life as she relayed it to me. Is a funeral time for vitriol?
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I heard mom outside my door. “Leave her alone. We can get her up later. She’s still grieving.”
“We’re all grieving. She has responsibilities like the rest of us.”
“Honey, it’s not that easy. I had to force myself to get up this morning. It’s obviously hit her harder than the rest of us.”
“If you can force yourself…”
“It doesn’t work like that. Let her grieve. She’ll get over it.”
They were still talking as they walked away from the door.
I was groggy from a fitful night’s sleep, but once again my thoughts turned to father and how he had responded to Brian’s death. He still hadn’t so much as shed a tear. He had made arrangements for the funeral in a cold, businesslike manner. Even before the body had arrived at Dover Air Force Base, he had set a date and time at a VA site about an hour away. He was superman with two stars on each shoulder to prove it.
Raging inside that he had caused this and wasn’t showing any remorse, I buried my face in my pillow and sobbed, but no tears came. I was so upset with him it was overcoming my sorrow. I wanted to hurt him, but how? He wouldn’t show it if I did. Well, I was going to make him sorry anyway.
Then I remembered, today was the funeral. I climbed out of bed, threw on my robe, and slouched downstairs.
“Honey, you’re up. Are you hungry?” Mom smiled, but I could tell it was forced. “You need to eat and get dressed. We’re leaving in an hour.”
After a breakfast that I picked at, I went upstairs and opened my closet. There it was, the black dress I was supposed to wear. For a moment I considered the bright sundress next to it. I could wear it to upset father, but it would hurt mom too.
I took a leisurely shower and dressed, knowing that everyone else was ready to go. When I reached the front door, the rest of the family was waiting. Father glanced at his watch then at me. For a split second longer than needed he held the glance, telling me without words that he was displeased. “We’re late. Let’s get a move on.”
An overcast sky threatened rain, not a shower but a steady drizzle. It made the trip to the cemetery even gloomier. As we drove, Mom and father talked about who would be doing what at the ceremony. I managed to ask if I could say a few words. “Certainly,” mom said before father could disagree.
By the time we arrived, rain was falling, light and steady from the low, gray clouds. The cemetery people had set a tent over the grave, but by the time the ceremony started there were so many mourners some still had to stand in the wet. I looked over the crowd as they straggled in. Most of them made an effort to come up to mom and father and offer sympathies. A lot of them were father’s associates and their families. Others were Brian’s friends from school. Some had come from as far away as Oregon. Martin Cunningham was attending the University of Oregon in Eugene. He stood at the back in the rain.
The protestant chaplain from the base stepped up to a microphone on the other side of the grave. He took a moment to look at the casket. It was closed because they had only recovered pieces of Brian. Mom had insisted on seeing it. She looked horrified at what she saw, and father had to help her walk away. I had to look, if for nothing else than to fuel my anger.
The chaplain started the ceremony with a prayer and then talked about Brian as if he knew him (he didn’t), calling him a devoted son (he was) and a hero (he was). I guess it wasn’t important that he was a reluctant hero. After another prayer and a hymn, the chaplain called father to the mic.
“Brian was a brave young man who wanted nothing more than to serve his country.” I gritted my teeth as I listened to father praise him. He deserved praise but not the bull father was putting out.
When father was through, he asked the mourners to say a few words. As one by one people came forward to deliver their tributes, father continued to ignore my raised hand. Finally there was no one else. He looked at me and then asked mom if she had anything to add. She stood up with her eyes blank and her mouth open. After a few seconds she managed, “I … only … know that his death took away a gallant young man, and … I already miss him … terribly.” Tears streamed down her face as sat down unsteadily beside me.
Father turned toward the chaplain as if to invite him back to the microphone, but I got to my feet. “Father,” perhaps a little louder than needed.
I saw what I’m sure was a glint of anger, but he said, “Of course, Samantha has something to say. Come on up, dear.”
I stepped up to the microphone, my heart racing. What was I going to say? Brian didn’t deserve this. He shouldn’t be dead. He was a talented musician. People should be listening to his music now. Then I remembered the video. I pulled out my phone and switched it back on. I moved the mic into position. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment while my phone starts up.” My face got a little redder as I waited. The delay seemed interminable, and my face got even redder. Finally, I was able to to login, and in another few seconds I had a song playing.
I held the phone near the mic, close enough that I could hear it from the speakers. “This is Brian playing ‘Glory Road,’ a song he wrote himself. This is what he was all about, connecting with people through his music. He didn’t belong in the marines. He didn’t belong in Afghanistan, but even there he was connecting. He died delivering medical supplies to remote villages. It shouldn’t have happened.”
I hesitated a moment to work up the courage to say what came next. “He was there because my father insisted that Brian had to serve before he could ‘play.’ His music wasn’t ‘play.’ It was his calling, but father insisted.” I looked at father. “It’s his fault that Brian is dead.”
Mom jumped up from her seat. “Samantha!” She rushed around the open grave and pulled me away from the microphone. The phone I was holding slipped out of my hand and clattered into the grave. Father stood in stunned silence as did the rest of the mourners.
As soon as we were away from the mic, mom grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. “How could you? It’s bad enough that Brian is dead. Now this?” She forced me into my chair, her face twisted as if she were in pain.
“I’m sorry, mom. I had to get it out of my system … because it’s true.”
While mom was dragging me to my chair, father had gone to the microphone. “So I’m the cause of my son’s death? I learned at the Naval Academy to take responsibility for my own actions. And, yes, I did insist that Brian should serve. Was that a mistake? It pains me to say it, but no, it was not. I miss my son, and I’m sorry he is dead, but I’m proud of him for doing the right thing.”
He admitted it was his fault, and he was proud of it. At least, that’s what I heard.